The ambulance (front) carrying the remains of Nasser Al-Kharafi seen leaving Kuwait Airport Sunday afternoon
Nasser Al-Kharafi dies in Cairo Kuwait mourns loss of economic pioneer

KUWAIT CITY, April 17: Kuwaiti businessman Nasser Mohammad Abdulmohsen Al-Kharafi, aged 67, passed away on Sunday after a heart attack, in Cairo.

The late businessman was among Kuwait’s elite in the field and head of the Kharafi Group, set up in the 1970s, grouping a large number of companies offering services in engineering, construction, maintenance, and other services in the fields of oil, water resources and management, chemicals, power and energy, and food.

The deceased managed to make the group a giant outfit within the Arab World and Middle East region. The Group handles many projects across the world.

 Al-Kharafi was also among the founders of National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), served as member of the board, and was also member of many companies’ boards of directors. He was awarded many honors including Jordan’s Independence Medal by King Abdullah II in 2004 in appreciation of his many contributions to Arab economy and business and his leading role in encouraging investment in Jordan.

The late businessman had also been honored by the Federation of Arab Engineers in Damascus 2007 in recognition of the group’s key projects across the Arab World.

He was also a holder of an honorary doctorate from the American University in Beirut in recognition of his status as a pioneering businessman and figure in the field of economy and investment.

Forbes magazine placed him among the wealthiest businessmen in the Arab world. He was ranked 77 on the world’s list of billionaires in 2011 with an estimated wealth of $10.4 billion.

He is the brother of Jassem al-Khorafi, who has been the speaker of Kuwait’s parliament since 1999.

Nasser Al-Kharafi, was born in 1944 and was the chairman of M.A. Kharafi & Sons. The group’s annual turnover was $4.3 billion in sales, and Kharafi’s net worth increased because of rising share prices of several holdings including Mobile Telecommunications Co Zain, National Bank of Kuwait and Americana, operator of US fast food chains.

Nasser Al Kharafi’s elder brother, Jassem Al Khorafi who attended with his younger brother Victoria College Alexandria, is the speaker of Kuwait parliament. His sister, Faiza, was rector of Kuwait University.Nasser has construction contracts in more than 30 countries worldwide, including several contracts in Iraq. In January 2009 he was linked with the takeover of Liverpool F.C. but was holding out for a lower price.

He had spent $250,000 over eight years to sponsor the Kharafi Kings, a Kuwaiti softball team that fields mostly US players in a burgeoning league for expats working in the Middle East.

The construction mogul had laid great store by transparency, often stressing on it in discussions on public forums. In an interview with the Arab Times on the Zain deal, he suggested the formation of a fund with a capital of KD 5 billion, and argued that the subscribers should be made investors and the fund must offer fair prices for the assets of shareholding companies that need liquidity. He also presented appropriate solutions to the financial woes of Kuwait markets.

Under his leadership, Al Kharafi Group was able to increase the value of its assets by $600 million through the economic crisis, when many companies and international brands were announcing bankruptcy.

Nasser Al Kharafi was known for his boldness in expressing candid opinions. In 2006, he asked the American president George W Bush to clarify the concept of fascism when the latter said that “Islamic fascism is the root cause of the crisis in the region.”

This he had asked in an open letter to the president, adding “We, along with other people in the whole world, are standing united with you in your rejection of fascism but the grim pictures of the Lebanese victims who died due to the Israeli aggression on Lebanon are showing us the opposite. We, therefore, believe that there is a misunderstanding on who should be accused of fascism.”

Mohammed Al Sakka, Professor of Economics, Kuwait University, speaking to the Arab Times following the news of Nasser Al Kharafi’s death, said Kharafi was a very valuable asset to not just Kuwait but the Arab world at large. “His demise will have a deep impact on the private sector in Kuwait and the region, especially in Egypt, where Kharafi’s business initiatives have created tremendous employment opportunities and productivity.”

Sakka further added that the immediate effects seen in Kuwait such as the falling stock index will pan out eventually. “When a figure of the stature of Nasser Al Kharafi passes away, such repercussions are bound to happen. However, his company is an institution built on strong foundations, and so the impact of his demise on the economy will ease out soon.”

Professor Al Sakka remembered Kharafi’s articles in the newspapers and how his views inspired policy makers to hammer out laws beneficial to the private sector and the country in general.

News of the unexpected death of Al-Kharafi shook Kuwaiti markets with companies having links with the group plunging in early trade.

Zain shares were trading down 3.3 percent on the Kuwaiti bourse at 0850 GMT. They dropped as much as 5 percent earlier in the day. Shares in National Investments , another Kharafi Group-owned company, fell 5.1 percent.

Shares in National Bank of Kuwait , the Gulf state’s biggest lender, also dropped 1.7 percent. Nasser Al-Kharafi was on the lender’s board and the group had a stake in the bank.

Egypt Kuwait Holding’s stock tumbled 9.7 percent on Al-Kharafi’s death.

The Kharafi Group, walloped by the global financial crisis and a property slump in Kuwait, has been keen to offload its Zain position for more than a year. In 2009, its deal to sell a 46 percent stake to an Asian consortium fell through.

The group owns a 12.7 percent stake in Zain through one of its units, according to bourse data, but analysts estimate Kharafi’s stake to be around 20 percent through other firms it controls.

The Etisalat deal fell apart in March after the telco pulled out, citing difficulties with Zain’s divided board, extended due diligence and regional unrest.

Last week, Zain shareholders elected a new board, including a top executive from the Kharafi Group, and approved a $3 billion dividend for 2010.

The State of Kuwait has lost a pioneering figure of its economy and business sector and one of its biggest supporters, said Kuwaiti Ambassador in Cairo Dr Rashid Al-Hamad on Sunday.

The ambassador told KUNA the late businessman shall long be remembered for his contributions to the state’s development and its investment sector and atmosphere. Al-Kharafi leaves a great many accomplishments and developmental projects to his credit.
Such contributions by Al-Kharafi, his family, and the Kharafi Group were not confined to Kuwait but covered the Arab region in general, and are most notable in Egypt. He was the best representative of the sector and of the state at many Kuwaiti events abroad, he added.

Kharafi Group Investments in Egypt surpassed $7 billion, he noted, and is the greatest investor in the state and the group is party in many projects in many sectors.

“It was fate that he should die in the land which he so loved; Egypt,” the ambassador remarked.

By: Valiya S. Sajjad

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